This is a savage wolf of a story, following two children's desperate race through icy heartless Germanic terrain. The cover on this hardback edition seems oddly unrepresentative, with a little Victorian girl in a seemingly wondrous aviary: the story would be better illustrated, for example, by the cover of the 1998 edition of Pullman's Count Karlstein to portray the book's dark and threatening feel.
The prologue of this gripping book introduces a demonic toymaker who has mastered a technique to take the hearts from animals and use them to give life to robotic creatures. And we are left to wonder how the toymaker is linked to a travelling circus and a mysterious piece of paper as the main thread of the story unfolds.
We meet Mathias, a conjuror's boy, who tries to discover his dead grandfather's secret and, with a girl he meets along the way, is chased by both those who wish to keep the secret hidden and those who want discover the its worth.
While relentlessly dark and sinister, this is a cracking fast-moving Dickensian tale of the children's living nightmare, full of pain, capture, escape and recapture, with perilous twists and turns through a host of merciless characters. It will send shivers down your spine, and will move and haunt you long after you turn the final page.